Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Revolution At The Tailgates: Ron Paul

The Revolution At The Tailgates: Ron Paul

State field director predicts second, even first in Iowa

It seems like when we’re young, we like to break a few rules. Staying out a little too late, sneaking a drink before that official legal age, or backing a candidate who’s outside the established mold (YEEEEEAH!)

Several of those dynamics were on display Saturday at Olive Court, a notoriously wild tailgate spot three blocks from Iowa City’s Kinnick Stadium. It was here, just a year ago, that John Kerry was infamously photographed with a beer bong. And into the anarchy marched the Ron Paul revolution.

Ron Paul wasn’t imbibing himself, though a couple supporters appeared to have had their enthusiasm enhanced with a beer or three. “All we have to do is obey the law of the land and make the Founders heroes again, and make the people in Washington realize that it’s your life to lead as you choose and not for the government to tell you what to do with it,” the Texas congressman told a crowd of 200. The presidential candidate’s message seemed to fit well in the boozy, young, free for all atmosphere of a Hawkeye tailgater.

“Every single day our numbers are growing exponentially, financially as well as volunteers,” Paul told Iowa Independent after his speech. “Our job is to get them to the polls, and it looks like we’re moving in that direction. Everybody’s pretty excited.”

Many supporters offered one-word answers for backing Paul, such as “Liberty” and “Freedom.” “We just want to be left alone” was the biggest applause line of the speech.

Some things are different at a Ron Paul rally. Other candidates don’t have custom-recorded songs, in rock, rap and country genres, with lyrics encompassing their name and platform. (Typical lyric: “We need Doctor Paul to make a presidential house call.”) Most were tolerable, if over-enthusiastic, although the rewrite of “New York, New York” made me briefly think of Rudy Giuliani before it reached the chorus of “Ron Paul, Ron Paul,” and the re-written lyrics to the Beatles' “Revolution” made this old-school Lennonist cringe.

There’s also no mention by name of other candidates of either party, unlike other Republican candidates, whose speechwriters seem to get bonus pay for working in the word “Hillary” as much as possible.

You also hear about different issues at a Ron Paul event, like this week’s “Liberty Dollar” controversy where a company making a private, silver and gold backed currency was shut down by the federal government. “We ought to adhere to the Constitution and get rid of the Federal Reserve System,” Paul said to applause. “The constitution is rather clear, the Founders knew something about inflation.” (Paul also mentions the Founding Fathers more than any candidate since Pat Buchanan.) “It says only gold and silver can be legal tender. Today, instead of protecting the value of our money, this very week we have our government arresting people who want to use gold and silver money.”

“We don’t need a North American Union, we don’t need an international currency, and we don’t need an international highway running from Mexico all the way up to Canada,” Paul said, citing the mythical “NAFTA Superhighway” that’s been debunked.

A more politically significant difference: there are far few curiosity seekers at a Ron Paul rally than you see with most candidates. A fair estimate is 90 percent or more of the crowd of 200 were, in caucus parlance, “1’s” or committed supporters. That’s also about the percentage that waited in the handshake line as Paul patiently posed with everyone for photos and autographed yard signs.

Paul’s big calling card to liberals is his absolutist anti-war position and his call for a foreign policy that is non-interventionist, but not isolationist. “Our foreign policy of the last hundred years has created an American empire we can’t afford. It’s time to end it to save the money,” he said “Those countries in the past that extended themselves too far always end in financial crises. Not only should we bring our troops home from the Middle East, we need to get them out of Korea and Japan and Europe. Take care of our own, have a strong national defense, at the same time stop the killing.”

Paul’s domestic policies are of a straightforward, less is more nature. “Young people don’t like the idea that another generation spent waaaaay beyond their means and they’re dumping the debt on you and that’s not fair. I’m giving young people a chance to opt out. If you don’t like the idea of paying income tax or Social Security, we have a plan where you don’t have to pay Social Security or income tax." That’s an applause line, as a loud man in the front row shouts “FREEDOM! FREEDOM!”

“These views are not strange or different, it’s just that we have forgotten our way,” Paul continues. “Washington has forgotten about it, but the people in this country haven’t. You ought to have a natural right to keep everything you earn and not give it to the government to spend wastefully around the world.”

The only thing that doesn’t seem straightforward is when I directly ask Paul what he’ll do if he’s not the Republican nominee.
Paul: “If they’re not real close to my position on getting out of the war and balancing the budget, I’d have a lot of trouble giving (the nominee) public support.”

Deeth: “What about running yourself?”

Paul: “I am running myself, right now. (laughs) It’s too early to predict. I would continue to do what I’ve been doing for 30 years, whether I’m running for Congress of running for the Presidency, or in Congress, I will just continue to fight this battle.”

State field director Steve Meyer is predicting a second or even first place finish in Iowa and a New Hampshire win. “You’re going to see Democrats go to the caucus, you’re going to see independents register as Republicans and go to the caucus. Look at the donations. We raised $4.2 million in one day and that all came from individuals. $20 here, $100 there and no other campaign is doing that.”

“You’re seeing a lot of people who’ve been non-voters, not just because of age, they just haven’t cared in the past,” said Meyer. “They’re finally seeing a candidate who’s walking the walk.”

“In Iowa I think if we come on in the top five we’ll we looking really strong, I believe we’re going to come in top two. He’s pegged to come in number one in New Hampshire extremely strong.”

But isn’t there a chance that, if this favorable scenario that’s not yet reflected in polls plays out, the rest of the GOP will get together behind a more mainstream Republican candidate to block Paul?

“It might make the point that they represent that status quo and I don’t, and that might help me,” Paul tells me. “Because the people in this country are sick of the status quo.”

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